Cincinnati Family Law & Divorce Blog: Should I Get Counseling?
Many of our clients ask us if they should be seeing a counselor or taking medication for the emotional issues they deal with during their divorce. While clients may feel that they could greatly benefit from counseling or medication during such a difficult time in life, they are fearful that their spouse will try to use the fact that they are receiving mental health treatment against them, or worse, try to obtain records from counseling sessions to learn more about their inner fears and concerns.
It is true that mental health of the parties is a factor the court must consider when allocating custody of minor children. It is also true that mental health treatment records can be accessed in a contested custody case regardless of whether the patient gives consent for the court or other party to obtain the records. If this is a concern, you should discuss this with your attorney, but as you will see below, in most cases the advantages of counseling outweigh these concerns.
There are a number of reasons why the benefits of counseling outweigh the risks identified above. First, the vast majority of cases settle long before they reach a courtroom when such records might come in to play. Second, the threat of using someone’s mental health treatment or records against them is most often just that – a threat. In the cases where records are requested, most courts are willing to accommodate reasonable requests to limit the information being shared to only those individuals who will be weighing in and making recommendations for custody. Third, mental health treatment providers are often very aligned with and supportive of their patients. As such, they typically resist providing full access to their file and when interviewed or examined on the witness stand, many therapists or doctors will give broad and vague answers so as not to betray the confidences of their patients. Additionally, when a therapist knows a patient is going through contested divorce proceedings, they may limit the session notes they take to only those high level matters, so that often even a review of detailed session notes would not reveal much.
Lastly, and most importantly, it is likely not surprising that there are often allegations concerning mental health in contested custody cases. This is something the court sees regularly. While there may be a stigma in the minds of some individuals regarding mental health treatment, this has not been our experience in the courts. When there is an allegation that a parent is dealing with mental health issues, the court wants to see that the parent is proactively taking care of those issues by seeking mental health treatment – whether it takes the form of medication, therapy, or both. The fact that someone is receiving treatment is therefore far more often considered as a positive in the determination of custody than it is as a negative against their character or fitness as a parent.
Another consideration when deciding whether to obtain mental health treatment is the cost of the services. We have found time after time that unresolved mental health issues typically result in higher attorney fees, either because the client is using the attorney as a stand in (and typically much more expensive) therapist, or because the client is simply not emotionally ready to tackle the conflict of the divorce until those mental health issues are better under control. For all of these reasons, when asked, we will almost always encourage our clients to seek the mental health care that they need during this very challenging time in their lives.